When he first appeared onscreen as Jesse in episode one of the third season of In Treatment, 23-year-old actor Dane DeHaan came off like a young David Bowie. He infused the character — a sexually aggressive, charismatic adopted gay teenager — with a kind of coiled, visceral magnetism that made him instantly riveting. As we come to the (tragically short) conclusion of the season, the second two episodes of which air tonight, Dr. Weston has gotten at another side of Jesse: the gentle, emotionally stranded, lost boy. We sat down with DeHaan to find out what happens next, both for Jesse and for this promising young actor, who just landed a spot on the next season of True Blood.
In Treatment is a no-joke show for an actor. It’s a very adult role even if you’re playing a young person, like doing serious theater. Does it stretch you?
It’s interesting that people compare it to a play, I can see why, but the preparation for it is nothing like a play. You have two rehearsals instead of at minim four weeks of rehearsals eight hours a day for five days a week. I didn’t realize how much it consumed my life until it was over and looked back on it. It’s like, wow I can’t believe I just put myself through that.
The pace is insane.
People would always be like, When do you work next? And I would be like, Well I’m probably going to shut myself off in a room all week and have no contact with anybody. Otherwise I will fail miserably.
How did this role come to you?
I was in the Philippines filming the new John Sayles movie Amigo with Chris Cooper and a bunch of other people. It was pilot season and my agent sent me some things and, you know, I just didn’t want to be on the new ABC sitcom. I read the In Treatment thing and was like, this is really amazing and beautifully written. One of the actors had a Flip camera and we just taped the scenes. The Internet was really terrible in the Philippines, so I sat by my computer for twelve hours the next day uploading my audition. And then when I got back to L.A. pretty much the next day is when I met with the producers and the writers and the casting director, and about a week later I found out that I got it.
What are the major differences between you and Jesse?
I’m a lot more unlike Jesse than I am like him. I grew up with two biological parents and a sister, and Jesse is adopted and an only child. And I am not gay. He’s promiscuous in a way that I never really was growing up. The list of ways in which we’re different goes on and on.
Given that, what was your way into him?
The characters are so specifically written, so well realized before the actor even touches the material, that I didn’t really feel like there were many holes that I had to fill in. I always say I am a really bad actor, because unless something is actually happening to me I can’t really fake my way through it. So it just takes a whole lot of fooling myself into believing it’s real.
So you went to lots of gay bars and acted like a sexually predatory rebel?
I actually didn’t go to gay bars, but only because in school I played a gay part and we went to some gay bars then. So I had already dabbled, and I didn’t feel like I had to revisit it to get that experience. Those were very vivid memories.
Talk about what it’s like to sit across from Gabriel?
Acting is awesome because you get to do things that you could never, ever do in real life, but now people are all excited and applauding you for it. Jesse is so in-your-face and vulgar, and the tactics he uses to get at people, to push people, to test people, are things that if I ever did in real life I could never get away with it. And to be able to do that to somebody that I have the utmost respect for? I got a whole lot of pleasure out of that.
Do you think Jesse is getting away with it?
I don’t think he gets away with his behavior in front of Paul as much as everywhere else. Paul realizes Jesse is just a kid that really just needs to be loved and needs somebody that will actually listen to him and not judge him and let him be who he is. But it’s scary for Jesse because he’s never had that. When somebody is being loving to him, giving him support, he lashes out to test that. In episode six, you see some of the most genuine moments from Jesse; he’s finally let down that front, telling Paul “I’m really glad your son is okay, and will you celebrate my birthday with me? I feel like we really have something good going here.”
And even in the preceding episode, when Jesse shows up, distraught, late at night, and Paul lets Jesse in. Is that a pivotal moment?
I think it’s incredibly significant. Paul is literally in between his son and Jesse. It’s a test, and ultimately for Jesse it means a lot that Paul chooses him. Paul chooses Jesse over his son in that moment. But then Jesse just wants more and more, and Paul cannot go much further because he’s already stepped over the bounds. In the end, that has an effect on Jesse that I don’t want to reveal … When Paul really draws the line, it has a really big effect on the future.
So what else are you working on these days?
I’m going to be on True Blood next season.
Can you tell us what kind of creature you’ll be playing?
I don’t think that I can. I don’t want to lose my job.